After Stacey Underwood’s fifth child was born, she decided that she was done having children.
The stay-at-home mother decided that, rather than alter her hormones with the pill or have an IUD implanted inside her body, she would opt to have her ‘tubes tied,’ or undergo a tubal ligation.
The minor surgical sterilization procedure is the second most commonly used form of contraception in the US.
But within hours of the operation, Stacey knew something had gone wrong.
Even after a visit to the ER, no one could figure out what was causing her horrible chills and night sweats and unprecedented mood swings.
It was only after doing her own hunting online that Stacey found a potential explanation: the rarely discussed post-tubal ligation syndrome.
‘It is like my body went into shock,’ she told Today.
Getting her tubes tied – a procedure called a tubal ligation – seemed like the best contraceptive for Stacey Underwood, 36 (pictured) after she was done having children. But after the minor surgery, she developed menopause-like symptoms from post-tubal ligation syndrome
Stacey had had her tubes tied shortly after the birth of her youngest child.
So when she started feeling desperately ill, the 36-year-old was afraid she might have developed postpartum preeclampsia (a serious high-blood pressure condition that a woman can develop shortly after giving birth).
Miserable from her night sweats and chills, Stacey rushed to the emergency room.
Doctors there ran a battery of tests, but couldn’t find anything conclusive.
Feeling no better, and more confused, Stacey went home and took matters into her own hands.
Though looking to Google for medical answers can be a dangerous strategy, Stacey’s search turned up a match: post tubal litigation syndrome.
Although getting your tubes tied does not introduce any hormones into the body, it can cause levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone to plummet.
Some research suggests this happens because the procedure can damage blood vessels and alter blood flow to the ovaries.
The resulting symptoms are not unlike menopause.
As Stacey’s hormones took a nose dive, they triggered the dreaded hot flashes and night sweats.
‘They were like convulsing chills and I would wake up and my clothes would be drenched,’ Stacey said.
For the last five years, it’s gone on like this.
The literature on post-tubal ligation is sparse, and because it is rarely diagnosed, it’s not clear how many women suffer the condition.
Tubal ligation is the second most common form of birth common form of contraceptive, and a particularly popular choice for couples like Stacey and her husband (pictured) who already have sizable families
As time has passed, things have gotten worse for Stacey, too. She told Today she now bleeds almost constantly.
What’s more, the hormonal changes have hit Stacey’s mood, hard.
‘I feel so defeated. I would walk out of the office and cry. I would get nowhere,’ she said.
Yet doctors still didn’t have any answers for what exactly was happening to the Kentucky mother, much less what to do about it.
And many are skeptical that post tubal ligation syndrome even exists.
‘For women to go through this and doctors not to listen, it feels heartbreaking,’ says Stacey.
At least one doctor, Dr Charles Monteith, who now performs reversals of tubal litigations in North Carolina, says he’s seen enough women suffer to believe that the syndrome is real.
‘I [used to say] that tubal ligation doesn’t cause problems,’ he told Today.
‘I have since come to understand otherwise.’
Women like Stacey can try hormone therapy (again, similar to what is used to treat menopause) and pelvic floor exercises that may bring some relief from the symptoms.
But they’re hardly a perfect fix. Having the ligation procedure reversed is the best option, but even then, they may never return to their former selves.
She is among a contingent of women trying to get the word out that tubal ligation is not necessarily harmless – and a smaller still group of doctors, like Dr Monteith are starting to listen.